Revelations on my Return from the Underworld


It is Friday, April 2, in the year of our demiurge 2021, a Good Friday, as fate would have it. My wife and I have finished a meal of fish chowder and I am feeling good, except for a mild discomfort in my abdomen. The discomfort grows to an acute pain extending in an ever-tightening band from front to back. Sometimes the pain subsides, only to come back like the turning of the screw.

Hours go by without relief. I try numerous remedies, including extra-strength pain killers, but nothing helps. After 24 hours of increasing and unbearable pain and no sleep, I surrender to the inevitable and we call an ambulance. I know that a blocked bowel can be life threatening and that  sometimes cancer causes the blockage.  The bumpy road to the hospital provokes heavy vomiting and I feel better for a while but the pain soon returns.

At the hospital I am given morphine. Two nurses appear and, through the nose, insert a tube into my stomach. The tube won’t go through the nasal passage, causing even more pain. They tell me how sorry they are as they push harder, switching from one nostril to the other. I am moved by their compassion and their courage to do what is needed, however difficult. 

One more night without sleep, this time in a hectic, well-lit and bustling triage area. In the morning a surgeon appears, a black African of kindly disposition, notifying me of impending surgery. He tells me I am garnering a reputation in the hospital as a real troublemaker. I burst out laughing. I can still laugh. That’s good! Where there is laughter there is hope.

As I revive from surgery, that same kindly voice is telling me that no blockage was found despite the CAT scan results clearly identifying one. The surgery had been, in that event, only exploratory, a far less invasive procedure. I would next be given a camera pill to swallow, which will, in theory, work its way to the blockage and then stop, all the while transmitting images to technicians.

It is Saturday, April 3, and I am transferred from triage to the main hospital, a shared room with three other patients.  Sitting up in a bed across from me is the perfect image of General George Armstrong Custer. When Custer speaks, which is often, his voice carries halfway across the ward. He plays loud movies on his entertainment system and keeps complaining that he has no access to the Disney Channel. He constantly asks the nurses for help, but none of them are able to solve his technical problems.

Custer is in a really bad way, something he does not seem to realize. He gets in loud arguments with his wife and sons about when he is going home, but he requires 24-hour attention. His wife tells him, “I am really stressed out about it” but he keeps on minimizing the situation. He will live in the garage to avoid the stairs, he says. His wife starts to leave, wishing him good night. He starts talking again and she says good night one last time. The phone rings and it’s number one son. “Your mom’s mad at me,” Custer says. “She stormed out — didn’t even say good night!”

Custer plays his 3AM movies at full volume. The nurses tell him to turn it down. “I can’t hear anything,” he says. “Well, use earphones then!” Custer never surrenders. “They hurt my ears,” he responds.

So this is what it’s like, I find myself thinking, this descent into the underworld. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat or drink and if I bend my arm it sets off an alarm on the IV machine. All I can do is observe. I think of holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. Everything is taken away from you, he says, except one thing — the power to choose your state of mind.  I close my eyes and let the situation be what it is.

My throat is sore and my mouth so dry I can barely speak, so the nurse brings me a cup of crushed ice, which I must administer sparingly to avoid the ‘no fluids’ order.  I am amazed at how much joy can be derived from a few pieces of crushed ice.

A young nurse visits me frequently, always asking, when she leaves, “Is there anything I can get for you?” I know there is nothing she can get for me and she knows it too but it’s her way of saying I care, I want to help. She has an elaborate tattoo on her forearm and hand, a pink and yellow floral pattern interlaced with light green vines. I come from a generation where tattoos were for merchant seaman and dockworkers, the flotsam and jetsam of the high seas, those who  frequented seedy, smoky waterfront bars in Halifax or Saint John. I could never understand why anyone would want a tattoo, least of all a young woman; but barely visible amongst the vines on her arm is this powerful word — LOVE. I am moved almost to tears. I could tell this gentle soul was born for this line of work. Her every instinct was only to help, to make things better.

How good it is to be wrong! Being right is so dreadfully overrated. How pleasant to observe one more foolish prejudice burned in the crucible of my own experience, this silly thing about women and tattoos. Being wrong can be liberating when it frees the slave from his own stupid opinion. Our capacity to get things wrong is simply enormous.

Saint Paul was chastened by his vision to not call anything clean or unclean. In his former life as a Pharisee of the Pharisees, he had been full of judgments and definite opinions.

I’m beginning to see gnosis as the end product of a process of refinement, the burning away of false judgments, erroneous thinking, and miscalculations to arrive at the pearl of great price.

I have had my bellyful of thinking I’m right, and old Custer is driving this home for me. I reflect upon the various Custer decisions of my life, and the lengthy postmortems in the wake of them. What’s the point of being right if it does nothing for the advancement of your own soul? Surely this is gnosis — nothing to do with correct doctrine. Gnosis is an epiphany. It moves you to your core. Who cares about being right or wrong?

An amazing thing happens after midnight on Saturday. The camera which is supposed to get stuck does not, completes its run without incident. On Sunday morning the order comes through: I may resume eating and drinking. Roxanne arrives later with a care package. It’s now Sunday. There will be more time in the hospital for observation, but the crisis is ending.

The surgeon tells me they do not know what caused my problem. There was no mistaking the CAT scan and blocked bowels do not unblock themselves, he tells me.

So there it is, three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, disgorged (discharged) at last – exhausted, chastened, but renewed. Could this be a metaphor for life itself? Our life’s experience exhibits an intelligence all its own, almost like a dream, full of hidden meaning. We have strayed too far from the centre of things, to a place of confusion and suffering, and now we are finding our way home aided by the deepest levels of the unconscious.

Hardly the Easter celebration I had in mind, but I emerge the better for it.

(c) Adrian Charles Smith 2021

War in Heaven

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I sometimes wonder what it must have been like for Jews living in Germany circa 1935. As the storm clouds gathered, some must have thought, Let’s get out while we can. Others, however, would ignore the warning signs, labelling their more prescient neighbours as paranoid. Those others, much later as prisoners, were handed soap on their way to the “showers.” Even then, they may have continued to underestimate the peril.

History is a long, sad record of human imprisonment, punctuated by a few precious interludes of relative peace, prosperity and freedom. Do we delude ourselves that such imprisonment could never happen here?

 How thin are the walls which separate a well-ordered world from lurking chaos. (Carl Jung)

Now we face a “new normal” where civil liberties, the rule of law, democracy and privacy are threatened. We see before us the spectre of big tech censorship, robotics, AI, transhumanism, the singularity, total surveillance, a digital currency linked to social credit scores, and “the great reset.” Churchill described “a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime…”, one made more sinister by the technology of his day.  Technology has grown exponentially since then and we will soon reach the singularity, a point in time when exponential growth in technology takes on an infinite value. How much greater then the need for eternal vigilance in the defence of freedom?

Imagine a dystopian future where there is no place to hide, no place to flee. America used to be a beacon for the world, a place of refuge for “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. In medieval times one could always retreat to Sherwood Forest to escape the evil barons, but not now. The technocrats of the future will have us all flagged and tagged.

Both traditional Christianity and Gnosticism proclaim we are in a war – a spiritual war. If it is a war, then it is a “wizard war”, a term used by Churchill to describe the deciding factor in WW2, intelligence and counterintelligence. The Allies won that war because they cracked the German naval code, called Enigma after the device that created the code. “Intelligence” means knowing what is true in the face of overwhelming lies and secrecy. It means discerning truth from falsehood, looking beneath the surface of accepted narratives.

The Secret Book of John describes how the demiurge enslaves humanity: “His power is in deception leading astray.” Therefore, “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” (Descartes) Doubt all the soothing words of re-assurance by those who hide behind a mask of piety. Doubt the official line.

The demiurge is the great counterfeiter, the creator of virtual realities, a liar from the beginning and the father of it, as Jesus said; but “the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

The big lie of the demiurge is that we are helpless and cannot resist. “Resistance is futile,” say the Borg. The truth, according to The Secret Book of John, is that we are more powerful than he and that his triumph depends on concealing from us the knowledge of our true identity. Gnosticism is liberation through gnosis or knowledge. Therefore, know who you truly are. The creative imaginative power of human intelligence is but an iteration of the divine creative intelligence which brings all things into being.

Holocaust survivor and author Victor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning) won his private war with the Nazis, but the weapons of his warfare were not carnal but spiritual (as the New Testament tells us). In the camp, “plum tasks” with perks and benefits were offered to inmates, in return for undisclosed assignments. Victor always refused these rewards because he knew a liar when he saw one. Beware the Nazi bearing gifts. Those who volunteered did not get what they bargained for and frequently did not return. Even at the end, as liberation approached, the Nazis said, come with us, we will take you to the Allies in return for clemency.  Victor refused to leave the camp in those final days. Those who accepted the offers were never heard of again. He survived the camp by refusing to believe the lies and by activating his divine creative intelligence in the pursuit of his own dreams; in his case, the completion of a significant academic paper.

The fight against the demiurge begins once we stop believing the official line. The demiurge and his archons depend, for their very survival, on our belief, our intention and our engagement with them. (Secret Book of John) We are no longer food for them when we turn instead to our own dreams and our own creation. This is how we win. 

The first casualties of war are the credulous.

“These are the days which try our souls”, says Thomas Paine. “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” (The American Crises)

© Adrian Charles Smith (2021)

Integrating Opposites II

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This is a revised version of an earlier post.

We often experience the world as a struggle between competing opposites: conservative vs liberal, objective vs subjective, male vs female, right brain vs left brain, the inner life vs the outer life, the active vs the passive, and so on.

In the study and practise of Tai Chi I have observed a dynamic tension between opposing forces: advance and withdraw, rise and sink. After many years of diligent practise, you can master the rise without losing the sink or you can withdraw but remain a coiled spring prepared for the advance. Mastering integration ignites explosive power (Tai Chi is a martial art).  It’s not a question of rise or sink, advance or retreat; it’s more a case of rise and sink both happening together so fast as to achieve integration. The interaction of opposites could best be described as a marriage, not a binary choice or a conflict but integration.

A simple practical example will serve to illustrate. First assume a firm stance, left foot forward right foot behind at a 45-degree angle leaving a channel in between. Allow a partner to put his/her hand in the middle of your chest, exerting gradual pressure with a view to pushing you over. Try to stop him/her from pushing you over. The immediate instinctive response is to resist, rise to meet or push back. Note how easy it is to knock you off balance. Now try a different strategy. The more your partner pushes the more you sink into the push, a very counterintuitive response. It might take some practise but you will begin to notice how immoveable you have become. You are relaxing into the push and absorbing the energy of it, ready to give it back.  This is the power which arises from the integration of opposing forces. Alternatively, try pushing on a large tree or telephone pole as hard as you can. Then try it again while sinking into the push and note the difference. The tree or the pole may not budge much, but you can feel the strength in your push; moreover, the results are achieved with much less effort or strain. This accounts for the graceful effortless appearance of Tai Chi when the principles are internalized. Tai Chi integrates non-doing with doing. The Western mind has a hard time with the non-doing part. Chi is the lifeforce energy. The principle is — “energy follows intention.” The masters can exert great power with very little muscular effort by allowing the energy to do the work.  

Practices, like Tai Chi, foster the mind, body, spirit connection. A flexible mind fosters a flexible body and a flexible body fosters a flexible mind in a continuous feedback loop. A flexible mind and body fosters a flexible, open and non-resistant spirit, one open and receptive to an expanded state of consciousness. The Tai Chi philosophy seems to be reflected in the New Testament passage, resist not one who is evil.  The Tai Chi way is nonreactive. A constricted and contracted hose will not allow much water to flow.

Integration is the key but fundamentalists invariably identify with one pole or another creating an adversarial relationship between opposites. The totalitarian strategy of divide and conquer adds fuel to the fire.

From my office window, when spring arrives, I will survey a pleasant scene of forested hills, pastures slowly turning green, and below them, a vast expanse of wetland where ducks and geese are returning from their winter refuge. Soon our farm pond will come alive with tiny goslings and ducklings eagerly following their mothers. It’s a scene of perfect harmony which could not exist without a balance and reconciliation of opposites: death and decay vs renewal and rebirth. Neither should prevail over the other. Both work together for good and what we observe with pleasure is the outcome of integration. Likewise, the most beautiful paintings are a combination of light and dark.

In the latter part of my book, A Prison for the Mind, I identify postmodernism as a fundamentalist belief system, one which has become the prevailing orthodoxy of our time. One of the doctrines of this new religion is that there is no such thing as objective reality. This sets the philosophy on a collision course with Enlightenment principles – a worldview which asserts that there is an objective reality discoverable through reason and the scientific method. Enlightenment principles are summarily dismissed (by the extremists) as the product of a white male patriarchy, a view itself that’s overcome with bias. Here we see the battleground of the subjective (postmodernism) vs the objective (rationality). How can they be reconciled?

I didn’t get too far in my expose of postmodernism before I realized, yes, I too am a postmodernist; I only reject the counterfeit version, used wrongly for political purposes—to foster totalitarianism, censorship and societal subordination to a global technocracy. Nevertheless, we do not understand the world through reason alone and in this sense, I am a postmodernist. We have a left brain which is rational and a right brain which is artistic — the realm of the poet, the mystic, the musician and the painter. A whole person must function with both hemispheres without one dominating the other.

Image: Shutterstock

In the early part of my book, I identify personal experience (subjective) as the only thing we can know for sure and the inner journey as an avenue to certainty (very postmodern). Finding truth in the outer world is difficult because it’s like a carnival funhouse Hall of Mirrors. It’s hard to tell what is real and what is illusion. Observing the outer world, we are confused and unsure, and thus vulnerable to counterfeit offers of comforting certitude.

Here’s where I think the counterfeit version of postmodernism gets it wrong. I refer to a teaching story about a village of blind people trying to figure out what an elephant is. One holds the tail and says it’s a snake. Another holds the leg and says it’s a pillar, another holds the trunk and says it’s a hollow tube; but no one has the vantage point to see the whole elephant even with the use of scientific instruments. The extremists say there is no elephant. I say there is one but difficult to discover (difficult but not impossible). If there was no elephant, then nothing would be objective and therefore nothing in the outer world could be described as true or false. If nothing is true, then science has no place, there would be no such thing as a lie and research would be pointless (i.e., no truth to be found).

You can have your own subjective insights without imposing them on others or using them to ignore verifiable facts or lobbying to have your subjective perceptions enshrined in law. All these things the faux postmodernists attempt. Subjective and objective must walk hand in hand, recognizing their respective spheres of influence. A police officer might follow a hunch or rely on intuition (subjective) to solve a murder but a conviction can only be upheld by evidence gathered and proven in court. Many scientific breakthroughs began as dreams or flashes of insight but these must also be subjected to the rigours of the scientific method.

The great mathematician Ramanujan, from Madras India circa 1915, with almost no formal education, claimed that the Hindu goddess Namagiri would appear in his dreams, delivering mathematical insights, which he would write down when he awoke. He described one of them as follows:

While asleep, I had an unusual experience. There was a red screen formed by flowing blood, as it were. I was observing it. Suddenly a hand began to write on the screen. I became all attention. That hand wrote a number of elliptic integrals. They stuck to my mind. As soon as I woke up, I committed them to writing.”

The Cambridge University mathematician Godfrey H. Hardy, who worked with Ramanujan,  said that if mathematicians were rated on the basis of pure talent on a scale from 0 to 100, he himself would be worth 25, J.E. Littlewood 30, David Hilbert 80, and Srinivasa Ramanujan 100.

When Ramanujan first arrived at Cambridge he insisted that his mathematical insights just came to him or were dictated by God (subjective) but professor Hardy, recognizing his genius, worked with him to provide objective verification based on principles acceptable to the scientific community. This was a very fruitful partnership. The word genius comes from the Latin word of the same name, meaning, “guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth” or “innate ability.”

We become much more effective as a result of integration and the world is more peaceful place without the either-or mindset of fundamentalism.

The amazing life of Ramanujan was made into a feature film, The Man Who Knew Infinity, which I highly recommend. (See Recommended Viewing section for movie trailer.) It is so inspiring to watch the two camps, the logical and the intuitive begin at odds but end in harmony.  Reconciliation of opposites is needed now, more than ever.

(C) Adrian Charles Smith, 2021